For the past two years, I’ve participated in National Novel Writing Month, a 30-day challenge that requires you to write a 50,000-word novel during November. I decided to do my own twist on it this year. I committed to spending 90 minutes daily during November revising the novel I wrote last year.
I am happy to report that I have stayed on pace so far. Some days I do 3 hours and some days I do nothing, but I’ve made it through the draft once, cleaning up all the big problems that I already knew existed (e.g. the “SOMETHING BIG HAPPENS HERE” notes).
Unfortunately, this round of revision made it very clear that there were many other problems. I like the first 5000 words. I like the last 25,000 or so. I feel they move swiftly, and I care what happens to the characters. I added about 10,000 words to the first section that will be fine once I clean them up. They’re in first draft form, so they’re necessarily rough. But then there is the whole big middle, another 25,000 words, that is just not that interesting. And if I don’t find it interesting it is hard to believe anyone else will.
So…more work. The good news is that I am starting to get a better sense of what is missing. As I know my characters better I will be able to add some scenes that add depth, and then chuck some stuff that doesn’t need to be there.
As the saying goes: Writing is rewriting. The process requires patience and trust. With fiction, it would be almost impossible to write a perfect first draft, because even if the writer has a very detailed outline, more nuances and layers will become obvious as the characters take up residence in the writer’s brain. They have their own lives; we never know anyone fully the first time we meet. The key brilliance of the normal version of NaNoWriMo is that it forces the writer to get the words out. The sooner the words exist, the sooner the revision process can get started. That is where the real writing happens, and it just takes time.
In other news: A related topic, and no, not about how to make time to write a novel (though that is a good topic too!) There is also the question of why one might make time to write a novel. Writing is my job. I respond to incentives, and experimental fiction is unlikely to ever pay as well as writing and speaking about time management and productivity. However, I really like writing fiction in the same way I like running. I don’t love every minute of it, but on the whole I find it intrinsically motivating. I find that making space for the kinds of work I like can keep me interested in my work over the long haul. The process is its own reward. Second — another running metaphor — I view writing fiction as akin to cross-training. By doing different types of writing, I can keep my volume higher than if I were only doing one kind of writing. Strategies I hone in each kind of writing help me with other kinds: pacing, detail, sentence structure and rhythm, word choice, sensing which sections help an 80k word book and which do not. Practice is practice in all its forms, and getting better only happens when one practices a lot.